Sunday 25 June 2017

Cars: Supermini that boasts some super attributes

Changing perceptions is key

Well worth a test drive: Citroën C3 Flair
Well worth a test drive: Citroën C3 Flair
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

Sometimes fate plays a hand in the car I have for certain occasions. The Citroën C3 would not have been my car of choice to help a dear friend, in a small way, to move house.

I think it is fair to say the car was put through its paces on most fronts. I don't normally fill vehicles like this to the gills - with all sorts of household goods - not once, but twice.

Yet, as a car-test exercise it was interesting. I'll tell what I came to value, though (apart from friendship, a cup of tea and chocolate biscuits at midnight): seats that fold flat, doors that open wide, lights that do a proper job and an engine that, despite being burdened, never strained; and returned a decent 4.7l/100km. In the main, the C3 scored well on those.

But I'll tell you what I didn't come to value: a blinking satnav that sent me around the icy backroads of Feltrim (north Dublin) at 2am when all I needed to do, and common sense dictated, was keep going straight on the motorway. Mercy.

I'll be charitable and say it was an 'input fault' to the nav (by me), but it is a criticism of the options you are given - and not given.

Anyway, it was all a good try-out of the new arrival (and tempers and character), which I don't expect will be repeated by too many too often.

And yet the one thing I remember most, haring back the motorway with the move complete, is my driver's seat. It was as good as I've come across in supporting the lower back and the thighs in any car. I think we overlook how long we spend in cars, especially small urban vehicles such as the C3. I've endured the effects of some poor ones but this, after a total of 700-plus kms (I brought a jog of stuff to the midlands, too), remained a constant support.

I expected the C3 to be okay in a bright-and-breezy sort of way: another promising, but ultimately so-so, attempt to win buyers in a viciously competitive market. It was a good bit more than that, to be fair. In my case, it delivered on most of what it promised. But is that still going to be enough? We'll have to wait and see next year.

On the road, the 1.6-litre diesel hummed quietly, had loads of poke and cruised well. I liked it around town, too; nice and quiet and steady. You should probably think petrol, though, if not doing 15,000-plus km a year. There is a good 1.2 litre petrol and it's priced better (from €15,490) than the €20,000-plus for the range-topper I had.

The C3 is funky, in a nice (can I say non-ageist?) sort of way; mine had Airbumps at the side - easy-to-repair protective panels should someone nudge you. And you can mix-n-match roof and body colours. Personalisation, they call it.

They also have a ConnectCAM system (behind the rear-view mirror) that lets you take pictures or run a video of the scenery or sights; or should you need evidence in the event of a bump or accident. Press a button and you're on Citroën camera. I didn't need it.

I travelled every sort of road in this: cobbled, rutted, motorway and the inevitable duck-and-dive Woodfield Bog. Not once was I overly discommoded because they seem to have got a good balance between comfort and strength into the suspension as well as absorbing most tyre (17ins) and road noises.

Citroën were good at that sort of thing years back (the brother had two), but they've had a few smaller cars that were poor enough in the modern era.

This is as good as most rivals in its supermini class. It needs to be because, let's be blunt here, there remains an overhang from the days, not so long ago, when they were a long way from a motor like this. Which means the C3 has to be better than most to get a look-in against the likes of the Ford Fiesta (new in 2017), Toyota Yaris, Volkswagen Polo, Peugeot 208, Mazda2, Nissan Micra (next year too), and so on.

It was comfortable at all times, and when not occupied with household goods or garden utensils, there was fair rear room (up 22mm) and a middling-decent boot. We used many of the myriad storage areas, too - the glove compartment is large.

It has its faults, of course. What car doesn't? And despite its 'funkiness' it's hardly a design trend-setter - I was disappointed it wasn't more radical. I felt it needed to be given the imminence of a new Fiesta and Micra.

Could I recommend it over a Yaris or a Polo, for example? Probably not, because they are tried and tested at this stage.

But I do think it is well worth a test drive. I'd not have said that about the old one. It's a real option now and capable of changing perceptions. That's a big move.

FACTS & FIGURES

Citroën C3 Flair, 5dr supermini, 1.6 diesel, 75bhp, stop/start, 93g/km, €180 road tax, 3.6l/100km.

Prices (1.2-litre petrol) start at €17,590. Diesel tested with €550 metallic paint option: €20,790.

Main spec includes: 7ins Touch Drive interface/Mirror Screen with Apple CarPlay, Black Airbump, ConnectedCAM, 17ins alloys, foglights/cornering function, LED daytime running lights, auto lights/windscreen wipers, rear parking sensors, reversing camera.

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